Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pooja Phenomenon

Its been more than a year since I've been staying and working with Bengalis. As with any other state, they have their own unique culture, traditions, art, celebrations, food habits, heroes, fights. I'm used to the 'alao' love, 'maach' craziness and 'misti' longings of Bengalis.But one thing which stood way out and for which every Bengali goes bersek is 'Durga Pooja'.

During initial days of my stay with Bengali friends, I noticed that whenever somebody mentioned 'Durga Pooja', they would get energised so much and would never stopped talking about the Pooja. I never understood why Bengalis are so crazy about Pooja.

As I spent more and more time with them, I could only see that it is not few but most of the Bengali fraternity goes in mass Pooja mania. In office, I had seen people trying to somehow squeeze vaccations to India so that they can attend Pooja.And ones whoever couldn't go would be present in office physically and mentally they would be there in Pooja pendals.

What a divine coincidence! This time, things happened such that I was in Kolkata during Durga Pooja and it was time for me to get a first hand feel of 'Durga Pooja phenomenon'.

I arrived in Kolkata just a week before Durga Pooja started. It was already evident that Kolkata was waiting eagerly for Durga ma.Everybody in office & outside had one common favorite topic - Durga Pooja.

Durga Pooja was in the air !

As the days got closer to Durga Pooja, the strength in office started dwindling. In between some serious rain caused some concerns of spoiling the party.But it wasn't to be.

I had heard from Bengali friends that integral part of Durga Pooja is 'Pendal hopping' and I decided to try it myself.On the Pooja day, we started pendal hopping from the block where we stayed.As we started hopping from pendal to pendal I noticed that the crowd on the roads increased as the evening progressed. As the night grew old, there were families, friends, relatives, lovers..everybody out on streets to get soaked in festive atmosphere.

I heard somewhere that Bengalis like 'addabaazi', that is grouping together and having fun.Durga pooja was indeed the perfect time for addabaazi. People were visiting pendals, eating out, having fun.Totally a carnival feel.

The effort these guys put into bring uppendals is unbelievable. Each of the pendals are unique, theme-based and meticulosly planned. The lightings & decorations are so stunning.Most of them are so impressive that it is a pure art work.Durga ma is curved in various forms and using various materials.
While inside the pendal, 'Anjali' is performed and outside pendals 'dhaaks' roar. Anjali is the aarthi program and dhaaks are those drums, which give that unique sound to the celebrations.

We literally roamed the whole night and felt that city will never sleep for the festival.

Newspapers during those Pooja days carried exclusives only on Durga Pooja.Suppliments ran into pages about the best pendals, pooja special food and anything about Pooja.Most news channels too jumped the vagon and came up with exclusives.Most of the Bengali channels took viewers on a virtual 'pendal hopping' with live coverage from various pendals.

If pendals were one event, then Durga immersion procession on the last day was another colorful event.One notable thing was the significant number of ladies out on street , swaying to the dhaks.

Bengal is such a state where communists are ruling for past 2-3 decades and I was wondering how Durga Pooja and Communism can go together.It was sounding such a oxymoron imagining communists celebrating Durga pooja.Then I told to myself that nobody stopped people affiliated to communism from celebration.Even if they don't believe in God, they cant stop believing in celebrations!

That lead to another question..why in first place, Durga pooja generates such interest and celebrations?

I got a feel that Durga Pooja is no longer a festival of some particular caste but people has accepted it as their own festival. Added to this, is the excellent machinary which arranges Durga Pooja in such a stylish manner that people get soaked into it.The final reason what I felt was Bengalis though have several festivals, nothing is compared to Durga Pooja and Durga pooja is the time to let out all that steam accumulated.Contrast this to any South Indian state, where there will be atleast one festival every month.So net result is that people wait for a good year to get the opportunity to feel,enjoy & get drenched in one mega celebration.

And after-effects of Pooja looked devastating ! Next day after the immersion, I saw many people who were down with a feeling that Durga Pooja was over and few were already counting days for next year's pooja !! And few were so used to saying 'Shubh Bijay' that they couldnt stop saying it even after Durga Pooja !

With due regards to Bengalis, as one of my Bengali friend used to stay "Durga Pooja is the only time when Bengalis would be active after which they go back to sleep for rest of the year' !!